From_Slavery_to_Poverty_The_Racial_Origins_of_Welf_----_(PART_II).pdf

54 the wpas original mission to establish a self

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54 The WPA’s original mission to establish a self-supporting ref- uge took on a new urgency in this changed climate of reform activism. By the 1860s, the inmates were formally classified according to their abilities for housework or sewing. Those assigned to the housework department were obliged to serve a month’s probation “in order that something may be known of their character.” During this period they were sent out to work by the day, with the Home receiving their earnings to help pay for their food, lodging, and clothing. Upon completing their probations suc- cessfully, they were placed in domestic service on trial for another month, SenGupta, Gunja. From Slavery to Poverty : The Racial Origins of Welfare in New York, 1840-1918, New York University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, . Created from ucalgary-ebooks on 2019-04-07 21:08:55. Copyright © 2009. New York University Press. All rights reserved.
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196 Celtic Sisters, Saxon Keepers receiving their wages at the end of that period. Those who left before the end of the month forfeited their earnings, which the Home collected. The WPA justified this regulation with the rationale that “if they are allowed to receive their wages at the end of the week, they too often squander the money in the indulgence of their vicious appetites.” 55 The women assigned to the sewing department, on the other hand, were considered perma- nent members of the Home. They were leased to families by the week or month, returning to the Home every Saturday evening to spend the Sabbath, returning to work Monday morning. They were allowed to keep their earnings after deducting a small fee for their board and washing on Sunday, “that they may secure such independence as relieves them from the charge of being a burden to their friends.” 56 The Home’s industrial department assumed a new scale with the establishment’s move to larger premises on Second Avenue in 1874. Two “spacious and well-ventilated” rooms on the second floor housed the various branches of its sewing de- partment, while the basement became the site of a commercial laundry, where, under the supervision of a matron, the inmates undertook wash- ing and ironing “at a cheaper rate than the ordinary prices.” 57 Yet as the century progressed, the Home found itself combating a los- ing battle with “the restlessness of modern life,” manifested in the wom- en’s demands for higher wages and a growing reluctance to commit to long stints of service on the Home’s terms. The inmates’ acts of rebellion signified both their self-identification as working women (rather than as subjects of moral reform through work) and their view of the Home as a source of paid employment (as much as a vehicle of cultural uplift). In 1868 the Managers responded by declaring, “We find the absolute neces- sity of living up to the rule, that a month’s service at the Home shall be required from those who leave their places without sufficient reason as is
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  • Spring '17
  • Dr. Hassan
  • New York University Press

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